Well red

Foreign blockbusters blocked to make way for Party epic

Well red

Fasten your seatbelt: Founding of a Party opens Wednesday

Hollywood loves a sequel. And so, it seems, do the propaganda team at the Chinese Communist Party.

After The Founding of a Republic – the star-studded movie made to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China in 2009 – a second film is about to be released in tribute to another anniversary. And this time the event to celebrate is the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party.

Got that one in your diary? (July 1, for the ideologically-uninclined).

Produced by the state-run China Film Group, The Founding of a Party is the sister film to The Founding of a Republic. Like its cinematic sibling, the film stars more than 100 of China’s leading actors, including Andy Lau, Daniel Wu and Zhou Xun.

The film tells the story of the rise of China’s Communists from the time of Russia’s October Revolution in 1917 through to the founding of the Chinese Communist Party on July 1, 1921, 90 years ago.

Officials said last month that they are confident that the film will rake in more than Rmb800 million – a record for a domestic offering.

But they are taking no chances. Gao Jun, a spokesman for the New Film Association, one of the country’s main cinema chains, told Southern Metropolis Daily that authorities have blocked movie theatres from showing Hollywood rivals over the same period. Hence the openings of blockbusters like Transformers 3 and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 have all been delayed till late July or “until The Founding of a Party reaches Rmb800 million in box office,” says Gao.

Instead, only a handful of movies were given the green light to show this month. Legal Evening News says those picked will not be popular enough to threaten the box office performance of The Founding of a Party.

And to make doubly sure, authorities have lowered ticket prices for the film. According to Dahe Daily, anyone wanting to see The Founding of a Party will pay Rmb50 in first-tier cities, compared to the normal Rmb70. Other less wealthy cities will only charge Rmb35.

It is not the first time Chinese authorities have sought to influence moviegoer behaviour. Last year they curtailed the screening of the wildly successful Avatar to make way for the homegrown Confucius. Disgruntled fans speculated that James Cameron film was bringing unwanted attention to the sensitive issue of forced evictions in the country (see WiC45). But industry observers also detected commercial motivations. The government was worried that Avatar was taking too much market share from Chinese films, writes the South China Morning Post.

Today, it seems political considerations are trumping commercial ones, with the Global Times reporting that some 90 movies and TV series celebrating the Communist Party are due for release.

Predictably, most of these “red dramas” rarely generate much must-see momentum with audiences.

“The dramas with red themes weren’t so popular and always had low audience ratings in the past,” says Yin Hong, a film and TV communications professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing.

Aware of their reputation, the Party propagandists are trying to give the dramas a makeover, with younger, better-looking actors and romantic storylines.

So we can expect a lot less Lenin, and a little more lovin’?

Maybe; although some of the breathless, new emotion can sound stilted.

In an episode of the TV series China 1921, which finished airing this week on CCTV, Mao Zedong’s wife, Yang Kaihui, played by young starlet Li Qin, cries out to the future Great Helmsman, “Let’s get married! I want to give you a child. Even if you die, I’ll raise the child.”

Some viewers also find the bolder characterisation too sensational: “The dialogue between revolutionary lovers in some TV series has given me the creeps,” Yang Yuxia, a 42 year-old housewife in Beijing, told the Global Times. “I really doubt the older generations would say something that I can barely manage to say today out of shyness.”

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